You’ve probably never heard of the Tuileries Palace, but it’s actually one of the most important places in French history over the last five hundred years, and its influence on the architecture of what has become known as Second Empire in the United States and St. Louis is hard to overstate.
First of all, it was built long before the so-called Second Empire of Napoleon III in the Nineteenth Century. Construction was begun in 1564 by Catherine de Medici, the Florentine wife of French King Henry II (the French kings married into the Medici family because the crown was broke and needed their financing) and was named, like so many royal residences, after a simple name: tuileries means tile kilns in French, which were located on the site west of the Louvre, which at the time was still a Medieval fortress built to protect the western approaches to Paris.
But the palace brought a new level of Italian Renaissance style north of the Alps, much as earlier artists had done at the palace of Fontainebleau. As the centuries passed, the Louvre was expanded and connected to the Tuileries, so much so that by 1870 to the untrained eye the two looked like one building.
Looking at buildings in St. Louis, such as the Four Courts (its name of course coming from a famous courthouse in Dublin) or the Christian Brothers College, one can see the clear influence; both buildings feature long buildings with pedimented windows influenced by the architecture of Michelangelo’s work in Florence, as well as the distinctive squat Mansard roofs in a central entrance pavilion.
Sadly, like those two St. Louis landmarks, the Tuileries Palace was destroyed during the turmoil of the collapse of the Second Empire, and the “correct” termination of the Avenue des Champs Elysees through the Tuileries Gardens that should end with the central entrance pavilion of the palace is now ruined, allowing the view to continue to the off-center Louvre past the Carrousel Arch.
The Paris Commune, one of the first Communist uprisings and now the hip thing to talk about in St. Louis nowadays due to its influence on a smaller workers’ strike in St. Louis a few years later, set fire to the palace in the final days of the failed attempt to take over the city. They had planned to burn down the Louvre as well, destroying one of the most important collections of art in the world, but the fire was stopped. They also executed their hostages as government forces closed in, and the suppression of the Commune resulted in its own massacre of a large number of Communards.
The palace sat in ruins for a while and finally a government sympathetic to the Commune ordered its demolition. There has been talk of rebuilding the palace, much as the German government has rebuilt the Communist-destroyed Stadtschloss in downtown Berlin, but it does not look like it will happen. I initially was excited about the rebuilding of the Stadtschloss but now am indifferent; it’s honestly a little weird. I don’t know if I support rebuilding the Tuileries–I suppose I would back whatever the French people today want. It might make tourists used to the current view unhappy, too, if the “classic” view is ruined with a new ersatz Tuileries in the way.
If you look closely, you can see how the northern, Richelieu Wing of the Louvre has been “capped” where it once attached to the Tuileries.
Down one of the quiet allees of the Tuileries Gardens you can spot one of the arches from the now vanished palace.
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